By Terhember Shija
Once upon a time, and that was in 1998, I was assigned two towering masquerades to supervise my PhD thesis in the department of English of Benue State University, Makurdi.
Destined to live and interact with me for about 24 years, this duo took turns in reinforcing in me a liberal intellectual mindset in the protean field of literature, with the view to possibly dissuading me from active politics. It is to the credit of Professors David I. Ker and Paulinus Tyohdzuah Akosu, that, against all distractions, I have been able to combine the two careers creditably.
The late Prof David Ker, a Socrates of sorts, bowed out last year at the age of 70, while Prof Akosu, the quintessential Plato who particularly sharpened my theoretical sensibilities, has now followed suit like a faithful companion.
One was the other’s teacher at the ABU and both were indeed my teachers at the BSU. I imagined myself an Aristotle drinking deeply from the Pierian spring of knowledge and being sobered again.
Prof Tyohdzuah Akosu was one of the last titans of strict puritanical scholarship in our university system. He was strict and meticulous in his main assignment of teaching, research and supervision of students. A fulbright scholar, a polyglot, a fiery social critic, essayist and conservative university administrator, he combined his academic work with his regular games of golf and lawn tennis with regimental adroitness. Yet you still found him almost every evening in jeans and T-shirts at the university club socialising with colleagues and postgraduate students.
Prof Akosu was my kindred brother from Mbaduku, which enabled me to interact with each member of his nuclear family. As a proud Tiv intellectual he believed, like Ngugi Wa Thiongo that great literature could be sourced from Tiv language or any of the 800 languages spoken in Africa. One of his most spectacular achievements has been the translation into English language of Suemo Chia’s classic novel, ADAN WADE KOHOL GA. His other research interests ranged from the protest literature of South Africa to that of black consciousness of African-Americans and the Caribbeans.
To him, both the writer and the critic were twin warriors fighting against the ills of domination, colonialism, neocolonialism, apartheid, corruption and man’s inhumanity to man. He was a poet and a critic with a sword. He deployed the magical potency of words to pull down despots, jail corrupt politicians and inspire readers to alter opaque landscapes of exploitation.
Yet it appears nothing has changed in the fortunes of the country before death came calling. His pen has not proved itself mightier than the sword or rather his sword was merely a blunt one.
Prof Tyohdzuah Akosu himself must have died of disillusionment. His country still maintains its madness, corruption, and deprivation of citizens he fought for.
It is a sobering paradox that the Almighty God, the creator Himself, wields a mightier sword. Every other sword is either blunt of temporal.
We however take solace in W. H. Auden’s immortal words at the death of a fellow writer, W. B. Yeats, that “writing or poetry makes nothing happen: it survives in the valley of its making where executives would never want to tamper”.
Thank you, Distinguished Professor Paulinus Tyohdzuah Akosu for leaving behind piles and piles of literature in tedious literary journals to stimulate courage, initiative and resourcefulness in those who care to read.
Adieu! Soul brother, Rest in peace till we meet to part no more.
*Shija is a professor of critical theory, Nasarawa State University, Keffi